Monday Anime: Psycho-Pass

Every now and then, life throws you a curve ball. Like, for example, having your internet go out, and your provider not be able to get around to fix it until Tuesday. Leaving you with blog posts to make, and no way to make them.

Not saying that’s what happened to me, just that it totally happened to me.

If it’s Monday, and you are seeing this, then a miracle has occurred, and I figured out a way to schedule this on time. I’m not sure what that miracle was, since it’s Friday, and it hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it was amazing.

Much like in my boring little life, little things can upset the entire apple cart in anime as well. Usually, it’s much more dramatic than not being able to connect to the internet because some one was getting ahead of the weekend by getting drunk early and ran into one of the exchange boxes.

Presumably, of course.

Me, right now, staring at my blank screen.

This weeks sci fi series follows a similar course, as small things lead to major upheaval. Psycho-Pass, a 33 episode, 2012 series from Production I.G., makers of things such as Guilty Crown, Eden of the East, and Ghost In The Shell, is all about the little things, and the massive consequences.

Never broken internet, so it’s not very realistic, but I may just be grouchy, so feel free to ignore me.

Set in a future Japan, where every person’s mental state is constantly being assessed, Psycho-Pass follows the young police inspector Akane Tsunemori as she is given her first assignment, Unit One. There, she meets enforcer Shinya Kogami, and together, they set out to make Japan a safer, happier place by blowing up anyone who has bad thoughts.

No, seriously. That’s pretty much what the show is about. Well, in very vague terms. The show is actually a deeply philosophical and psychological exploration of how far people will go to feel safe, and the horrible ramifications of having that safety enforcing vigorously.

In the world of Psycho-Pass, the Sybil System uses dozens of metrics to perform constant cymatic scans, which measures the general mental well being of everyone, everywhere. It assigns a color coded “hue” system to people based on the results of these scans, which is then used to assess if they are in danger of becoming a criminal, or showing criminal attitudes.

Stop! In the name of love!

When someone passes a certain Crime Coefficient, the police are dispatched to either arrest them, or just kill them. Inspectors do the police work, while Enforcers are basically just trigger men, who do the killing. The system doesn’t want Inspectors to have their Crime Coefficient go up, so Enforcers are all latent criminals, with violent tendencies, that are allowed to operate under the eye of the inspectors.

In the very first episode, we are shown how this system works, and how flawed it is, all at once, as Unit One engages a offender, and deals with him. On the heels of this, however, they find that the woman he has just kidnapped and raped is now also considered a danger, due to her cymatic scan giving her a dangerous hue. She’s stressed out, freaked out, and frankly, has just undergone a violent trauma. Sybil doesn’t care. It doesn’t take things like context into consideration. She is now a criminal, and the best course of action is to just kill her.

Fortunately for the woman, Akane intervenes, and manages to talk her down, changing her hue to an acceptable level. For the viewer, it is a powerful introduction, however, as we see both how the Sybil System works, and how it doesn’t.

Making things more complex is the arrival of Shogo Makishima, a brilliant man who is Criminally Asymptomatic, meaning no matter what he does, Sybil gives hm a clear hue. Probably because, once again without any context, all Sybil reads is his cyamtic scan, and he is never stressed, afraid, worried, or bothered. Not even when he murders Akane’s best friend right in front of her.

The biggest flaw in the Sybil system is the weapons that are issued to the police, powerful guns called Dominators. The Dominator has a direct link to Sybil, and can render a cymatic scan on the spot, allowing officers to deal with whatever is in front of them at any given moment with assurances that Sybil has approved their actions. The Dominator will not fire on anyone who is under a certain Crime Coefficient rating, and can go from stun to kill, based solely on what Sybil sees.

What? No! It was a shave that got away from me.

Makishima gets a pass, so Dominators don’t work on him, meaning the police can’t even shoot the guy, no matter what they actively see him doing. That’s a pretty major flaw in the system, nor is it the only one that exists. Sybil is a deeply flawed system, but people have accepted it as the norm, and because of that, its judgement is final.

As a series, Psycho-Pass largely focuses on Akane questioning this, Kogami struggling against it, and Makishima trying to destroy it. Between the three of them, we see the basic responses to a system that is accepted, yet flawed and essentially unfair. The fight to work within the system to change it, the fight to destroy it, and the fight to escape it.

The first twenty two episodes of the series deal with this in a very blunt, direct manner, and address the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the story at every turn. The last eleven episodes are a second season that, while not as powerful as the first, do tackle a lot of questions the first season left hanging. There’s also a movie, but I’ve not had a chance to watch it yet. I assume it to be good, since pretty much everything Psycho-Pass related is generally excellent.

The three central characters are as well crafted as the plot. Akane is the very image of the new cop on the beat, thinking she can change the world with her particular skills. As the story progresses, we learn that she’s a lot more than she seems, and frequently questions her decision to become a police officer, as well as her own ideology, methods, and viewpoint. Which, ironically, is what makes her an excellent cop. Even through her doubt, her own hue never changes, as she is never afraid or stressed by this introspection, and consideration. She accepts it for what it is. Part of being a human being. This makes her uniquely qualified, as no matter what happens, her own Psycho-Pass remains a clear white.

Doesn’t help her hair cut much, though.

Kogami, on the other hand, is very much an anti-hero, with violent tendencies, anger management issues, and a quick temper. This doesn’t make him anything less than a brilliant cop, able to piece things together, and figure things out with a deft mind. Unlike Akane, however, his ability to do so, and to think like a criminal, has caused his hue to become dark, making him a latent criminal in the eyes of Sybil. Never mind the reasons, or the context, of course.

Makishima, on the other hand, feels personally offended by Sybil’s inability to recognize him. His constantly clear hue, even as he murders someone, makes him feel alienated, and unaccepted by the society he is a part of, and drives many of his actions. He knows he is a monster, but the system refuses to accept him as such, so the best thing eh can think to do is just burn it all down, and force people to start over from scratch. At least then, the system would acknowledge his existence, and he could be treated like a person, even if it is a criminal, rather than a non-entity.

Which is probably the most fascinating aspect of Psycho-Pass, really. The central antagonist of the series wants to destroy a broken system, that to be honest, needs to be destroyed. He is, in some ways, the hero of the story. He seeks to free people from the manipulations and control of an unfeeling system that simply can’t be bothered to care about the context behind their actions. Akane is working to preserve the system, because it is better than no system at all. Kogami seeks to escape the system, so he can at least be free, rather than a chained up attack dog.

Free to smoke, and not get an adult hair cut! Revolution!

 

While Makishima’s actions are, overall, rather selfish, as he wants to punish Sybil for failing to see him as he is, each character has their own personal relationship with the unfeeling eye in the sky. Akane does what she does because it is, in her mind, better than the alternative. Kogami does what he does out of anger, resentment, and a desire to be free, even if it’s just for a little while. Makishima, though, wants revenge, for not being acknowledged by the very thing he wants to break.

They are all terribly human, and do terribly human things, for terribly human reasons. It’s really very refreshing.

More importantly, it explores, openly, both the pros and the cons of a system that is designed to keep people” safe”. While people are safe, they are also constantly stressed out about their mental state. You are only safe until Sybil deems you unfit for society, after all. That stress leads to more stress, creating the very problem Sybil is suppose to prevent.

There is no such thing as safe. No matter what you do, or how hard you try, there is no system that makes people completely safe. As long as humans exist, we will face danger, and threats. That’s just part of living. Safety is an illusion, and ultimately, this is what Psycho-Pass is getting at. There is no true safety, only the illusion of it.

No matter how many pills you take to feel “good”, you can’t escape the fact that people get angry, sad, and depressed. That’s art of who we are. We can paint it up so it looks nicer, give it a pretty hue, as it were, but it doesn’t make the danger go away, or safety real.

Nothing can.

As a series, Psycho Pass tackles a lot of big questions, and does a solid job of addressing them all with serious consideration for both the good and the bad. This is remarkable, as is the highly artistic appeal of the show, considering just how graphic, violent, and gory it tends to get. I mean, when ya got a gun that can make a person explode, gory is gonna happen. Regardless, there is a perfect marriage here between the philosophical, the artistic, and the action packed. It’s a very well balanced series on all fronts, and quite a ride to take.

Happy place! Happy place! Happy place!

 

Visually, Psycho-Pass is a feast. The character designs are inspired, the backgrounds rich, and the animation high quality from start to finish. Particular attention is paid to the lighting, to incredible effect, as the show can go from bright, to dark, in a blink, and dramatically affect the mood and atmosphere with such a simple trick. All of it is gorgeous, and really, will threaten to make your eyes pop.

The series was directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Naoyoshi Shiotani. Motohiro is primarily a film director, which is probably why Psycho-Pass often has such a cinematic feel to it. He really knows how to give a broad, sweeping feel to what he works on, which is probably why they had him direct the movie for Psycho -Pass as well. He’s also worked on FLCL, and Laughing Under The Clouds, so that should give you some idea of his skill.

Shotani, on the other hand, has a lot of experience in the television side of things, having worked as a key animator, in-betweener, episode director, and storyboarded numerous shows, such as Blood+, Ghost In The Shell, Le Chevalier D’Eon, Tsubasa Chronicles. He brings a keen eye for what works on television, as opposed to film, and between the two, they present a gripping, tightly woven narrative that relies on the visual nature of television to tell a very compelling story.

Nihilistic, yet hopeful. Fascinating.

The writing, now, was done by the one and only Gen Urobuchi. If you don’t know who this is, then shame on you. He created Madoka Magica, was the head writer for Fate/Zero, and crafted the entire story for Requiem For The Phantom. Basically, the guy is a genius writer, who is better known for his novels than his anime scripts. He’s also adapted many of his own anime projects into novel series, however, so clearly he knows how to take the two mediums and run with them.

Urobuchi is also a brilliant maker of characters, has a deft hand with dialogue, and knows what a story needs to make it gripping. He stays away from the tried and true, and pushes the envelope with everything he does. Psyco-Pass is a perfect example of his work, and easily one of his most brilliant works, right along side Madoka.

Yes, I’m a fan. I gush over writers. Why are you surprised?

I mean, the guy is a titan. I dream of being able to sweat in his shadow, ya know? To be a fraction as gifted and skilled as he is. This show is a reason why.

It’s a writer thing. Just nod your head and roll your eyes at me when you have another tab open, okay?

Urobuchi has American fans? WTF?

The music, which is brilliant, was done by Yugo Kanno, the composer behind the soundtracks for the Birdy The Mighty franchise, as well as Jo Jo’s Bizzare Adventure series. As there, so here. The music is brilliant, skillful, and evocative. It develops the scenes beyond just what you see, or what the characters are saying, or doing. It deepens everything, adding a powerful layer of context that Sybil would totally not get. It’s a really great soundtrack, and just wonderful to listen to even away from the show.

Overall, Psycho-Pass is one of those shows you just have to see. No amount of words written by me, or anyone else, can really capture just how deep, meaningful, and well crafted the show is. It’s one of those you just have to experience personally to really get the full impact of.

Like Ghost In The Shell, Psycho-Pass is a cyberpunk action series, with a heavy emphasis on philosophy and psychology. Where Ghost asked what it means to be human, Psycho Pass focuses on what it is to be human. While this may seem like a fine line, it really isn’t, and the two shows tackle their subjects in wildly different ways.

Take a day, and marathon them both. You’ll get it.

In the end, all I can really say is, go watch Psycho-Pass, and my thanks to Weekend Otaku for giving me the nudge I need to finally give the show a try. One of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

Thanks, man.

You rock, ya know?
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One thought on “Monday Anime: Psycho-Pass

  1. Yes, you watched it! Very cool 😊 I loved this series (although I have to admit I still need to watch season 2). But there was so much to enjoy in this series, that I am not even going to give it a try to point out all the things I loved πŸ˜€ Reading through this post, I got reminded of the fact that I still need to watch the second season. Well, I guess I need to do that too very soon, but oh my god, my backlog is so incredibly huge that you don’t want to know how huge it is lol πŸ˜‚ Great post, and that “stop in the name of love” was absolutely priceless. It cracked me up πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

    Like

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